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The Lost American Dream In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby

1398 words - 6 pages

The Lost American Dream in The Great Gatsby

 
   Critics agree that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is not only a social commentary on the roaring twenties but also a revelation of the disintegration of the American Dream. Jay Gatsby embodies this smashed and illusionary dream; he is seen as a “mythic” (Bewley 17) individual, as “the end product of the American Dream” (Lehan 109) and as a representative of “man’s headlong pursuit of a dream all the way across a continent and back again” (Moyer 219). The factors that contributed to the destruction of this American fantasy are materialism, moral waste, and spiritual transgressions. As a direct result of this fallen hope, the characters search in vain for fulfillment in wasteful and trivial pursuits. Fitzgerald portrays the American Dream by as a pure fairy tale.

            Many critics question what Gatsby’s role is in this text is and how it applies to the American Dream. In Marius Bewley’s “Scott Fitzgerald’s Criticism of America,” the critic argues that Fitzgerald is able to “mythicize” Gatsby by never permitting him to “become soiled by the touch of realism” (Bewley 14). Bewley believes that Gatsby is “a creature of myth in whom is incarnated the aspiration and the ordeal of his race” (Bewley 17). The critic, therefore, is not solely citing America for Gatsby’s desire for the ideal but instead his “race” or creator for making him wish these unattainable wishes. Continuing with this idea, Bewley implies that Gatsby’s mythic qualities present him as “less as an individual than as a projection , or mirror, of our ideal selves” (Bewley 24). Thus, Gatsby, in Bewley’s opinion, is a reflection of all human aspirations. On the contrary, Joyce Rowe believes that Gatsby’s behavior is just like America’s: full of “self-delusion” and containing an “exploitive nature” (Rowe 87). Rowe has an overall negative view of Gatsby; she rejects the idea that Gatsby is “heroic” (Rowe 87) and feels that his nature is not mythic in quality but instead “reflects the popular taste on which he has been nourished” (Rowe 89). To Rowe, Gatsby’s “heroic individualism” is a pure “self-deluding sham” and his supposed dream is a “defense against the dislocations and complexities of a changing society” (Rowe 90). Thus, Gatsby’s so-called unfulfilled American Dream is just another way for him to displace the blame which belongs solely to himself. Tony McAdams also agrees with Rowe that the label of “the American Dream” (McAdams 114) is incapable of describing Gatsby’s behavior. This “dream” is translated into Gatsby’s ultimate wish for the girl he cannot ever have: Daisy. McAdams suggests that Gatsby is not following a dream but rather pursuing “his personally conceived vision of life” (McAdams 114). This idea resembles the “mythic” qualities Bewley gives Gatsby but lacks the transcendence and heroic ideals that go along with his mythicism. Richard Lehan has a contradictory perspective on Gatsby. To Lehan,...

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